Brain Candy: An Exercise in Knowing Thy Context in The Check-Out Aisle

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Checking out at the Whole Foods on my way to a Father’s Day lunch I spied (and purchased) this parent-trap: Sharkies Kids Sports Chews.

As with most things in life, brand and product positioning (the mindspace a company would like their product to occupy in the mind of the consumer) is all about context. In this case, this item’s value is rooted entirely in its marketing.

Somehow, this product- which is at best a “fruit snack” / glorified candy: slightly better than Sour Patch Kids but slightly worse than Annie’s Gummy Bunnies on a nutritional scale) is not a sweet- but-minimally/harmful snack. Rather, it a functional-yet-fun nutrition supplement.

Let’s break it down a bit:

Ingredients: organic sugar, organic tapioca syrup, organic white grape juice concentrate, pectin, citric acid, ascribing acid, color. The important words here are “sugar” and “syrup”. You will find less euphemistic versions of all these ingredients (AKA high fructose corn syrup) in most fruit-snacks with potentially a few extra added dyes and preservatives.

Marketing messages: notice the list of badges on the package advertising all the “bad” things the product DOESN’T have: high fructose corn syrup, trans- fats, wheat, gluten and nuts. Aside from the corn syrup – there is nothing among the listed evils that you would find in ANY fruit snack or candy. These buzzwords are evoked to enable quick editing and validation in the “impulse aisle” so Mom or Dad can have an easy reason to say yes to their nagging toddler.

Then throw in the tagline: “Clean Fuel for Active Kids” and you’ve got an instant win for a parent who is inevitably stopping at the organic food store on their way to, from or the day before / after a soccer game, tee ball practice, gymnastics or junior hip-hop dance class.

Why is it “clean?” Flip it over and look at the ingredients list – only about 8. Fits the “not processed” bill for most over-achieving label-readers.

Finally, it’s not called a “snack” or a “gummy” anything – even though from consuming the entire bag I can tell you it has the same consistency as most gummy candy. It’s a “chew”. Other things that are called “chews” in Mom-and-Dad land are typically kid’s vitamins- gummy and chewy I consistency to trick kids into getting their essentials by making then think it’s candy.

So, at the end of the day, this sugar-rush-in-a-bag passes as chewy Gatorade instead of gummy bears because of clever marketing and because its organic.

Context is everything indeed. I simply recommend that every now and then we all remind ourselves to take the time to put the pieces together more objectively so our consumer choices are made in the right frame of reference and frame of mind. Otherwise we are destined to become slaves to our cultural context rather than being a part of its evolution.

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4 thoughts on “Brain Candy: An Exercise in Knowing Thy Context in The Check-Out Aisle

  1. Oh my gosh, I spend so much time grocery shopping trying to read through all the labels and packaging. Organic doesn’t always mean healthy, just because it is dairy free…doesn’t mean it’s not full of sugar…etc. Such a chore.

  2. I was just researching sugar-consumption this morning. It is annoying how products like those fruit snacks can sneak into even the health food juggernauts like Whole Foods. It’s sounds shrill to watch the labels so closely, but after a while one just starts to feel lied to! My pet peeve is “natural” peanut butter that lists a slew of other things rather than just “peanuts” or maybe salt.

  3. I use to eat sharkies all the time. It’s rediclious to think any type of candy products are good for you. Even if purchase at whole foods. eating to many vegan sweets will make you gain weight. As far it being for active children most sports drinks are loaded with sugar so it’s reason to assume the snack treats will be too. I love candy so I’m bias!

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